Software Quality Policy

Business managers have two critical responsibilities relative to software quality. First, they must set and communicate clear policy, empowering their people to carry out that policy. Second, they must ensure that these policies are implemented. This entails monitoring quality on an ongoing basis and taking action as needed to keep the organization on track.

Business managers must give serious thought to software quality policy, answering the following questions:

■ Is the organization's policy to be first to market with the right features at the right price — and fix reliability issues later?

■ Is it to have the most reliable product available in its class?

■ Is it to aim at the low end of the market, which will accept poorer quality at a lower price?

■ Are there critical safety or customer issues that demand perfection, in terms of 100 percent reliability? (This is the case, for example, for medical instruments, defense systems, and avionics components.)

■ Is the company committed to a zero-defect policy?

The task of determining policy cannot be delegated. Only the business manager can set this policy, because all others in the organization will let the policy be influenced by their (individual) quality goals and the design/implementation of the software.

Thus, the policy should carry the weight of the business manager, reflecting serious consideration and commitment. It should have lasting value, and be unambiguous to those implementing policy.

There really is value in thinking about and articulating such a policy. Quality problems in the software industry are caused by the lack of clear direction from the business manager and the will to enforce such policy.

Business managers can only hold their teams accountable for meeting quality standards if these are stated. A decision to ship a product can only be made when there are clear criteria for making such a decision. A development team can only be disciplined for causing exorbitant support headaches when team members are told that minimizing support costs is a critical issue at the time of software design. A product manager can only set quality goals for a product when the standard corporate policy is consistent from day to day and product to product.

The right policy must be set and articulated before it can be enforced. A business manager who does not step up to this issue is negligent in leading his organization.

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